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Zimbabwe recidivated to the 'Mugabe normal' or worse

by Paul Simon
14 Dec 2017 at 05:08hrs | Views
In the aftermath of Zimbabwe's so-called military-assisted takeover of the 37-year-old fatiguing era of the regime of former President Robert Mugabe, the country has quickly recidivated to the "Mugabe normal" or worse, since President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over. Given what is brewing on the ground, any hopes that the removal of Mugabe by the military would usher in a new democratic dispensation remain a mirage.

For years, citizens craved for the exit of the dictator "by any means necessary", but were powerless to get rid of him because of the same military junta that callously quashed any signs of rebellion or anyone contemplating change of Mugabe regime. But not until the top brass of the military was about to be changed itself, things quickly shifted.

When the opportunity finally arose, citizens overwhelmingly supported the military-engineered ouster of Mugabe concomitantly with former First Lady Grace, his avaricious "Missis" and multimillionaire oligarch, whose upward political trajectory targeted at nothing, but succeeding her husband.

A Mugabe dynasty was beckoning. After all she was already rubber-stamped by the entire ruling party structures to replace the dismissed Mnangagwa as Vice-President. She was a heartbeat away from the throne occupied by the ailing nonagenarian.

Unfortunately, she has been grievously wounded by the treacherous game in her quest for a great triumph to secure the private fiefdom they had co-created with the help of the same military.

So with the tacit approval of the junta, citizens heaved a huge sigh of relief, jubilantly thronging the streets and bestowing accolades to the newfound liberators. How strange! Nonetheless the euphoria has since virtually evaporated, Mnangagwa's message of hope trashed and all the goodwill incidentally garnered during the brief political brouhaha now completely squandered.

A couple of intriguing factors have contributed to this lethargy. Chief among them is the fact that after days of intense speculation, last week Mnangagwa bizarrely fumbled Cabinet appointments by retaining serial underperforming careerist politicians, who were just as sycophantically glued and complicit to Mugabe's transgressions as Mnangagwa himself.
To add insult to injury, the same deadwood Cabinet is officially known to have mercilessly oppressed the people of Zimbabwe, while gobbling the country's resources to its knees with Mugabe's protection, of course. Retaining Obert Mpofu, the personification of corruption, as Home Affairs minister is a glaring example of how the nation has been short-changed.

For the ordinary citizens it's time to go back again to peasantry and overlords, as well as preparing to dodge shrapnel.

The second factor is unusually fascinating because it smacks of a deceitful stratagem, a dummy sold by the military to a gullible Zimbabwean populace in dire need of anything called change. Not surprisingly, the recycled Finance Minister was quick to remind citizens in the optimistic aftermath that the "coup" was in essence a Zanu PF affair, thanks but no thanks.

The citizens were quickly reduced to a mere asterisk of the "revolution".

The other dumbfounding truth is that the "coup" was beginning to take a nasty turn as Mugabe was refusing to go thus piling pressure on the military generals to prove to the world that theirs was a "coup lite" underwritten by popular demand. What better way to fight Mugabe than rope in the citizens themselves, whose chokeful disdain for Mugabe was contained by the same military in order to diffuse mounting pressure from Africa Union and SADC.

Temporarily, citizens tasted freedom. How expedient that they would for once be allowed to demonstrate freely without running battles with heavily armed police and soldiers!

Furthermore, the notoriously corrupt Zimbabwe Republic Police disappeared from the country's roads. It became imperceptibly surreal that up to today, one can drive a stretch of 5km in Zimbabwe without running into menacingly extortionist police officers who harass, harangue and incarcerate anyone who cannot pay them a bribe. Ironically the rot was all sanctioned by top cops who got the bulk of the loot. It's a set up. As the elections approach, the brute force of the military will be unleashed against the opposition, no doubt!

But the plot only thickens. As suspected, it turned out that Mnangagwa has handlers in the form of the military establishment, the very same men who "gave" him power. He is not his own man, but is in more than lockstep with the military. Since time immemorial, the Zimbabwean military has shown vested interests in all aspects of the country's socio-economic and political order.

Meddling in any given election is the norm. A textbook example is the case of the tumultuous "coup" of 2008 that culminated in a presidential run-off when the military intervened to protect and entrench Mugabe who had dismally lost to the opposition. Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander General Constantino Chiwenga and Mnangagwa who headed the Joint Operation Command (JOC) took over the military exercise which terrorised citizens nationwide. Chiwenga is on record several times accusing the G40 (rival camp to his Lacoste faction) kingpin Jonathan Moyo for destroying "our party" from within.

Eventually the G40 fronting Mugabe's wife, Grace, would succumb (fatally) to the military-backed Lacoste led by Mnangagwa.

But the country's Constitution is clear when it comes to the role of the military and separation of powers.

Section 211 of the Zimbabwe's Constitution states that: "The defence forces must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all persons and be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional and subordinate to the civilian authority as established by this constitution."

It is, therefore, odd and unthinkable that the military removed Mugabe in order to "give power" to a stranger or to the opposition, neither were they motivated by national duty to "rid the country of criminals" as purported. What a blatant untruth! After all only two "criminals" have been arrested to date.

The only thing that changed in the 2017 "coup" is that their man, Mnangagwa, had been fired as Vice-president, while arch-enemy Grace Mugabe, was being promoted to replace him. The military bosses were under severe threat of losing power and their vast empires which they have built for themselves for 37 years alongside Mugabe.

Zimbabweans quickly felt they had successfully jumped out of the frying pan, given that the grip of Mugabe and Grace had been loosened, while their obituary firmly written. However, little did they know that there is consuming fire awaiting them next.
In a disturbingly thoughtless move which shocked the nation, the very faces and leadership of the "coup" have promoted themselves into echelons of State power as Cabinet ministers. Conspicuously, the voice of the coup, Major General Sibusisiwe Moyo has been promoted to the position of Foreign Affairs minister, while the Airforce of Zimbabwe number one man, Air Marshal Perrance Shiri is now Minister of the lucrative Lands portfolio.

Highly-placed sources also confirm that the vacant Vice President positions are set to be soon occupied by the biggest military bosses (Chiwenga himself and another). Several war veterans, aides and sympathisers to the coup have also been handsomely rewarded for their role thus putting into question the righteousness of their so-called patriotic mission. Lastly, Mnangagwa's acolytes have also been given lush ministerial positions.

The bigger picture is far more complicated than the projection set by Mnangagwa and the military suggests. A better plan for Mr Mnangagwa would have been hinged on broader strategic objectives such as stabilising the economy based on launching a trajectory optimised on an inclusive government to woo back the international community and allow for internal cohesion to rebuild national unity and healing from Mugabe-induced wounds.

Citizens anxiously anticipated that Mnangagwa would infuse new faces as well as the tried and tested leadership of Morgan Tsvangirai, which brought about massive economic turnaround for the period 2009 to 2013 after several years of misrule. Even as he steadfastly battles cancer, Tsvangirai still carries people's hopes regardless of diminished prospects for progress. He epitomises the nation's idea of freedom, economic progress, justice and equality. Zimbabweans are incredibly resilient, they will soldier on.

Even a resurgent Zanu PF, cannot fix the economy alone. It's very easy to sign more mega deals with the Chinese and Russians, but nothing significant will come out of them basing on history. Where were the Chinese when Zimbabwe's economy was being ravaged by hyperinflation for years?

The international community is now at variance with Mnangagwa, who had successfully sold himself as an uncompromising reformer given the audacious vision he pronounced during his inauguration.

The vision included reining-in fiscal indiscipline, stamping out corruption and nepotism, arresting criminals and immediately revamping the economy. But a massive disconnect already exists. Mnangagwa and his men have already fallen prey to the quixotic patchworks of Chinese "mega deals".

Mnangagwa quickly rescinded his initial appointments as public outcry weighed down on him. How will he attract investors with the same looters and soldiers firmly in charge of the Finance Ministry, Industry and Commerce, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Lands, Security, etc? How will the same untouchable thieving old guard aided by partisan securocrats cause genuine reforms that will lead to free and fair elections given their entrenched interests and power privileges?

There should not be any doubt that the country is yet again set for further trouble. The recent "coup" has many unintended consequences but one indubitable fact is that it has energised the civil society.

Mnangagwa can enjoy all the political romanticism with the military but the harsh reality of the economy will soon awaken him. Like his predecessor and mentor (according to his own admission) Mugabe, he risks another botched legacy that leaves behind overwhelmingly broke and poor citizens.

Regrettably, Mnangagwa is clearly not cognisant of the stakes and has chosen to reinvent the wheel with the aid of the not-so-hidden barrel of the gun forgetting that democracy is good for everyone including him. One day it will protect him and his offspring. Ask Jonathan Moyo, who crafted and superintended over the most draconian of laws to oppress the people of Zimbabwe. He is currently in hiding and agonisingly tweeting under a rock while his bank accounts have been frozen.

Mnangagwa's latest wrong-headed and dumb political moves have ruptured the national tranquility and reversed the momentum that the nation had witnessed. He has revealed his new "old" regime's sinister agendas and rekindled the citizens' mistrust of Zanu PF and the military. With motormouth Mugabe-era propagandist George Charamba and demagogic Christopher Mutsvangwa reappointed to the department of (mis)information and presidential advisory, the spin machine is already in overdrive.

There is an urgent need for constellation of the broad democratic movement comprising opposition parties, civil society, independent media, students, academics to unite and counter Zanu PF schemes which over the years forcibly destroyed civilian authority replacing it with a defacto military rule led by ambitious soldiers. Clearly it's not just the nation that needs urgent democratisation only but the military itself.

The fundamental questions are: Can Mnangagwa and his military handlers institute reforms that will lead to free and fair elections within seven months? Can the historically unpopular Mnangagwa, who lost numerous elections to novices in his own hometown win a presidential election against a backdrop of a splintered Zanu PF, an economy in intensive care unit and a disenfranchised populace? The great unknown is, where is he getting the assurances and the confidence?

Now, not only are tough questions about the autonomy of Mnangagwa's Presidency being asked but his competency and sense of judgment as head of state as well. Most citizens are convinced that the man at the helm, whose sordid past as Mugabe's chief executor, is merely a big pretender whose time has come.

In the final analysis, the path to Zimbabwe's democratisation remains a pie in the sky. It is highly improbable to have free and fair elections by July 2018 especially considering that the same people and systems that rigged elections for Mugabe are still intact and are being reinforced by military men. Could this be the ultimate ride to the apocalypse for Zimbabwe? Only time will tell.

Paul Simon is a political and business strategist for the African Union. He is also an academic and accomplished author



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